Monday, April 14, 2008

A Little Spring Cleaning Website Style

Ooops. My day to blog and it was a crazy weekend. I spent most of it doing something I've put off for a long while - overhauling my website. I have the mousified sore right shoulder to prove it!

Not long after I sold my first book, I built my own website, and, while I have made additions and changes to it over the past year, the overall feel of the site had started looking dated to me.

I checked out a bunch of other author websites and the variety of sites out there is amazing. There's complicated, simple and everything in between. All kinds of cool stuff I didn't offer on my old site. So I bit the bullet and changed templates.

Of course, (this always seems to happen to me) the data on my old template didn't convert well to the news ones and none of my text and photos transferred automatically. I had to suck it up and either rebuild every page from scratch or import from my old website (which wasn't without it's own set of issues).

On a limited writing budget, it's hard to justify hiring someone to build, let alone maintain a website. I'm not sure there's enough of a payoff there, so, as a result, I'm managing alone for now. I know far more than I ever thought I'd know or ever wanted to know about HTML code and building websites.

I realize I should've asked all this before I spent all that work on my website. Too late now. But I'm still curious about how readers and other writers react to websites. The bottom line is I wonder if they're worth it.

For all the readers:
Do you go to writer's websites? How often? Does the way a website look, professional/unprofessional, have an impact on your perception of the writer's books? Do you expect frequent updates? How often? What are you most interested in reading about/looking at? Trailers? Photos? Info on upcoming releases? Research information?

For all the writers:
What things have you gotten responses to related to your websites? Have you set up emailing lists off your site and do you send out e-newletters? Do you do it yourself or hire out? Do you think there's been a payoff to having a website or is it simply a cost of doing business today?

I still have bugs to work out and issues between browsers, but if you're interested check it out:
http://www.helenbrenna.com/

26 comments:

Playground Monitor said...

I'm not sure a writer's website impacts my perception of their books, but I do enjoy a website that's pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate. When I find a new author I'll look for their website to check them out.

One of our group members does our site and bless her, we'd be lost (not to mention broke) if she didn't. I'm in charge of the blog. We do have an email list and another member is in charge of a monthly newsletter.

I think in today's world authors need some sort of web presence. I don't think you have to go whole hog and do a website and a blog and MySpace and Facebook and every other thing that's out there. But a site gives your audience the info about you and your books and a blog gives them a little slice of life look at you on a regular basis.

Nice new site! I especially love the header.

Marilyn

Michele Hauf said...

It looks great, Helen! Love the purple and green. your author pic is very pretty. ;-)

limecello said...

Hi Helen,

Generally a website doesn't affect how I feel about an author's writing- but I have seen a few that made me recoil. I like author websites, but I do expect it to look "professional" - not like a webpage I had when I was in middle school. I'm also rather simple. I like clear links - some webpages have so many bells and whistles it gets confusing, or annoying when everything is not easily accessible.

Kathleen Eagle said...

What Michele said! Gorgeous, Helen! (Also: gorgeous Helen!)

Our Wednesday guest, Cait London, is quite promo and internet savvy. Be sure to ask her thoughts on this subject.

As for my website, I'm dated. I do it myself, and I'm lacking in skills and knowledge, so I just do the best I can. My updates used to come regularly, but I don't get to it as often as I should anymore. I don't post on the MB so much, mainly because I spend the time here in the convertible.

One bit of advice I've gleaned from web managers a couple of times over is keep the front content current, but don't remove anything that could interest anyone or be picked up by search engines. Just move it around using internal links.

I do an e-mail newsletter a coupla few times a year. Don't want to be a pest, but my subscribers seem to stick with me for the occasional contact.

Kathleen Eagle said...

OMG, limecello, you had a web page when you were in middle school?! I feel so ancient. I didn't even have a phone in my room yet.

Kathleen Eagle said...

To clarify, we DID have a phone. One. I got the first extension in the house. I was in high school.

Facebook? That's like a yearbook, right? (Just kidding.)

Amy Addison said...

I'm in the process of having my website designed, and after trying to do it myself, we decided it was worth the money to have it done by someone else--I couldn't do it nearly as well as someone who works with code all the time, so we hired it out.

There are some websites of authors that I like and some sites I don't like. Does it affect my buying habits? No. But I'm less inclined to visit their site if it is hard to navigate, never updated or just painful to look at because it's overdark or hard to read or cluttered or whatever.

I do think sites should match the tone of the books the author writes, because it's part of the whole package, but as long as it looks nice and is easy to navigate and read (no tiny print please), I'll visit again.

flip said...

As a reader, it is pretty thrilling to find your favorite authors online. I don't expect a polished professional page. However, the author should be sure to plug her upcoming novel. Seriously, I love Loretta Chase, but she is the worst at self promotion. I want to know when the next books is coming out...even if it is in the next decade. (any Laura Kinsale fans out there) Your page looks great. It has the most important info, what books you have published and your upcoming novels.

Cindy Gerard said...

Great web page, Helen. Love the colors and look at beautiful you! What a fabo photo.
I like this question. I'm going to have my web page redone very soon but because I'm techno challenged, I'll hire it done.
One thing that really makes me scratch my head on my current site is that I CONSTANTLY get questions from readers who e-mail me from my site asking when my next release will be out because they didn't see anything on the site. This gives me a huge case of heartburn because I have new titles and pub dates listed on the HOME page. It begs the obvious question - why didn't they see it? And that begs the next question, what's wrong with the design that it was so easily missed? So, I'm as interested as you in what readers want to see on a website so that it resonates with them?

Betina Krahn said...

Beautiful, Helen! It's wonderful!

I don't think how a web site looks impacts how I think of an author's books, but it can influence how I see an author as a person. If a web site is personal and fun and gives me an idea of what the writer is like, then I probably let it influence me more than I realize. But to be honest, I don't spend a lot of time visiting author web sites. I have enough trouble keeping up with the few blogs I dip toes into regularly.

I do know that readers who like your books really like having a place to go to express their opinions and give feedback!

Keri Ford said...

Helen, your site opened it was like opening a window! It's fresh and springy and pretty. the colors look fantastic!

From a reader standpoint,

I like the info about the books. that is what brought me there. I want to know what order they came in and DON'T take a book off just because it's old. I'm probably at your website in the first place looking for a backlist.

Since I started a regency a few months back, I really, really, REALLY enjoy writers who put research links on their site!

From the writer's chair,

Most of my comments are, I like your website, especially your 'about me' page. I assume they mean it since it usually comes out of the blue at me. For now, I do it myself, but said once I sell, I'll see about paying for it (course, I haven't checked into how much something like that costs either!). I think it is absolutely worth the cost. I am so amazed everytime I check my stats at how many people come to my site a day.

Keri Ford said...

Cindy, I saw your post and I thought, “What?” If memory served me correctly, it seemed like yours was clearly there with descriptions of the coming book! Went and checked it out…and yeah, it’s right there like I remembered! I don’t know why other folks are missing it, especially since there’s that link AT THE TOP OF THE FRONT PAGE CALLED ‘Books’.

Helen Brenna said...

Sorry. For some reason my system wasn't showing any comments!!

Marilyn, I agree - it would be impossible to maintain a presence on all the outlets available these days. At least not without hiring someone.

Thanks Michele!

Limecello, you stated what I'd guessed/hoped. It seems to make sense that as long as a website/cover/whatever isn't horrendous, it's not going to make too much of a difference.

Helen Brenna said...

Kathy, front page content staying the most current makes sense too. See what I'm learning.

We had only 2 phone in the house, too! And 1 TV.

Amy, you mentioned something I struggle with - defining myself as a writer. Had a hard time trying to pick something that looked like me and my books. The old design didn't at all. Hopefully, I'm getting closer.

Helen Brenna said...

Good to know, Flip. Thanks for the feedback.

Cindy, thanks! I checked out your site. Do you have too much info on your front page?? Maybe it confuses people?

Debra Dixon said...

Helen-- I love the picture of you.

I love the content. I wasn't sure about the color combo, cut it's growing on me! :)

Nice job!

Helen Brenna said...

Thanks, Betina. Your comments bring up another question. I can add a "guestbook" to my website, giving visitors and readers a way to post comments without emailing me directly. I wonder if that'd be useful?

Keri, thanks for the feedback. This is all good! I would like to eventually put a research tab out there and put photos and webpages I've used. I've seen some authors with printable backlists. I don't have that many books. Yet! But I can see how that would be useful.

You're right, Keri, the website should primarily be about the books!

Cindy Gerard said...

I'm wondering the same thing, Helen.
And that's why I'm having the redesign. This is all such valuable info!

Helen Brenna said...

Thanks, Deb.

One thing I did splurge on was the photos. I went to a photographer a couple weeks ago, after finding out about the RITA final. I figured it was time to retire the pictures my dh took of me at our neighborhood park. Not that they weren't nice, but I thought it best to get something more professional looking.

Debra Dixon said...

Helen--

You're a pretty woman but that's not the point of this picture and why it was worth every penny to the professional.

You're beautifully lit, warm, inviting, fabulous clarity. Really this is a great picture.

Helen Brenna said...

Exactly, Deb. I'm so glad I spent the money for a pro. She was wonderful. The lighting, shading, etc. Worked miracles on me!

wolfpackgirl said...

Your new website looks great!

I do go to author websites, about once a month. I look for information on upcoming releases, past releases to find titles I haven't read yet, as well as news/information about WIP and to read excerpts. I also like to see if an author I enjoy reading has a blog that is linked on their website.

I don't think the webiste's look affects my perception of the author's books themselves. However if a site is not very user friendly or not updated very often then I tend to not visit that website as often as others. I think that updating about once a month or when there is new news to share is a good time frame. The updates don't have to be extensive; just a little update about what's going on that month such as releases, signings, things like that.

Virginia Lady said...

I'll answer as a reader since I haven't gotten anything published yet. I do look for author's websites after I've found an author I like, but I've also found authors from other author's sites and blogs.

A professional site makes a much better impression on me, but since so many people are new to HTML, etc I don't hold it against them if their site is amateurish. I agree a web presence is expected now for published authors, even if you only have one book.

I do love the look of your site and it doesn't look amateurish. :-)

Helen Brenna said...

Hey, wolfpackgirl and Virginia lady - thanks so much for your input. Wolfie's plan seems very doable!

Cait London said...

Helen, your work is begorgous! Very clean. You don't need a designer. Puts mine to shame. I still don't have my old website info brought over to the new one, and would love a much cleaner one.

Paul Spence said...

Great to see writers sharing thoughts on website functionality and design. It's a competitive market out there and a professional interface with your public is vital.

At Bookhabit.com we've set up a community for readers and writers that aggregates a global audience of readers. Authors upload their e-books on to the site and get to test market reaction to their work. Authors retain ownership at all times and receive a commission on any sales.

Please do check out the site and launch competition and upload a book if you are able. We'd also love to get feedback on the site.

Thank-you for letting me share this.

Paul Spence
Community Development Manager
Bookhabit.com